Lately, being the analyzer that I am, I've been pondering the speech patterns we humans develop over time and what these patterns reflect about our inner lives. Specifically, I've been contemplating my mother's relationship with the word “inside.” In response to a question about where something is located, like “Where is the cat?” my mother might respond, “He's inside.” She means he's not in the same room as her; he's in another part of the apartment (he's not an outdoor cat, so she is not referring to the literal meaning of the word “inside”). In essence, “inside” is where she is not. And it occurs to me that she, from this perspective, is always on the outside.
I have felt like an outsider for most of my life. I don't doubt that this pattern emerged long ago. Being an “outsider” seems to be a family relic—something my mother picked up from her mother, and my grammy picked up from her mother (my “yiayia,” or my great grandmother). I have also inherited my mother's speech patterns and have witnessed how I, too, carry them into the next generation.
Several years ago I was a nanny for two children, ages 7 and 9. We were in the kitchen when one of them asked where their backpack was. “It's inside,” I responded, meaning it was in the dining room or living room. They began to giggle and one of them exclaimed, “We are inside!” That’s when it dawned on me that the statement “It's inside” isn't logical, and I laughed too. (Although, I'll admit, a part of me, by virtue of habit, still feels that this sentence makes perfect sense.)
For the past several months, I've been doing core work. Physically speaking, I am strengthening my abdominal muscles—muscles which enable my transitions from one yoga posture to another to be more fluid and easeful.
Metaphysically speaking, I am connecting to my center—an unwavering space inside my body, free of concern, and not influenced by the opinions of others. My center is where I can access my sense of power and grace.
Connecting to my “center” or core has not always been easy for me. My toddler photos reveal a cute protruding belly, which seemed to be one of my signature features. My aunt once told me that when I was small my mom would ask, concerned, “Will she grow out of this?” To answer her question, at the ripe age of 37, I may finally be “growing out” of or transcending my belly issues. In my teenage and young adult years, I hid my stomach. It was usually distended and I was embarrassed. My stomach expands easily—sometimes when I drink water or eat fruit my stomach grows into what looks like a pregnant belly or an inflated balloon; I'm thin and I can easily hide it, but it's uncomfortable: you can't breathe well when you are sucking your stomach in!
It has occurred to me that I have been hiding my power center for most of my life.
I had a dream several years ago that I possessed the ability to move objects by sheer power of will. Similarly to the little girl in the movie Fire Starter (remember that movie? It used to be a favorite of mine), I could set my gaze on an object, but rather than set it on fire, I would send it flying across the room as though it had wings. This was one of the most vivid dreams I'd ever had, and I remember feeling as though this inner power was something I'd possessed my entire life. And I thought to myself in this dream, of course I have always been able to do this. These superpowers I held were a little frightening, but at same time made perfect sense to me. When I woke up it took a while to understand that this was, in fact, only a dream. Turns out I could not move objects by gazing at them. (Believe me, I actually tried.) But the imprint of this dream stayed with me. It would periodically re-emerge, as if to remind me of something ancient and essential that I’d forgotten.
If I were to tally up the words that I’ve used most, “might,” “maybe,” and “hopefully” would make the short list. Tentative, uncertain words. “Maybe” this and “might” that. “I hope” this or that. I watch them fall from my mouth, then I pause, and if I am feeling grounded and present, I change my word choice to something more certain and confident.
My body posture, pre-yoga, also reflected this tentative nature. When I began practicing yoga and bringing attention to my body, I realized that I stood on the outer edges of my feet. I called it “a bizarre balancing act” in one of my essays about how yoga has enabled me to shift unsupportive patterns in my life. As I allowed my feet to feel the ground beneath them, I realized I had never stood fully, comfortably on my own two feet. I had never felt supported. I had never felt like I was “inside,” meaning connected to myself and to others and to my environment (a part of a bigger whole). I felt separate and fragmented and, as that Indigo Girls song goes, that I was “always on the outside, looking in on others' lives.”
When I began practicing yoga and bringing attention to my body, I realized that I stood on the outer edges of my feet.
My body posture and movements (on and off the mat) feel more integrated these days as I slowly wake up the parts of my body, and the corresponding parts of myself, that were taking a snooze. My speech patterns are changing as well. The opposite of those wishy-washy “maybe's” and “might's” is “will.” “I will do this.”
The manipura chakra (third chakra) is located at the navel center. Its name could be roughly translated as “lustrous gem” or “city of jewels.” The third chakra is the seat of our willpower. Chakras are often likened to “energy wheels” or “vortexes” that live along the spine, specifically from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, and they reflect the metaphysical underpinnings of the spine. The third chakra, specially, is often represented by the color yellow (the color of the sun) and is connected to our inner power, confidence, and truth. (On a side note: Interestingly, yellow had always been one of my least favorite colors and now I am drawn to it.)
Simply put, the manipura chakra represents our power source. Just as we cannot live without the sun's energy, we cannot thrive with a weak power center. I'm not speaking about a power that is manipulative or forceful (in fact, that type of power use likely indicates an imbalance in this area of the body), but a clarity that comes from knowing who you are, what you need, and how to meet those needs in an honest, strong, and kind way.
A few days ago, at the close of my yoga class, a student told me that she loved the way I taught because my voice was so “commanding and clear.” This was the best compliment I could have received because vocal expression has been one of my greatest struggles (this is also why I write, because writing helps me make sense of how I feel). My student's comment reminded me that my core power is beginning to shine through, even if some days I don't feel that way. Confident self-expression is definitely a work in progress.
And on less-than-confident days, I've come to realize that my tentativeness arises from a fear of being seen and heard—of being rejected—and that this is the reason I hide my own power. “Not good enough” is a voice that has plagued me each time I have attempted to try something new, to “put myself out there.” I listened to that crabby little voice for a long time, and I was beholden to it.
I believe my tendency toward abdominal bloating is due to my sensitive system (I try to avoid foods that seem to cause bloating, and this generally seems to help, but not always). But on a metaphysical level, I can see this as a representation of my inability, for a long time, to absorb and process what nourishes me. Maybe I didn't feel good enough about myself to accept nourishment and support. But this has been changing over the years—namely through stepping onto my yoga mat and reconnecting to my body, through the simple act of feeling it, bringing my attention to it.
Maybe I didn't feel good enough about myself to accept nourishment and support. But this has been changing over the years.
And yes, building and strengthening my abdominal muscles is part of this process, but even more importantly, I think, is a commitment to a practice each day. For many years I've practiced yoga but never, if I'm honest, consistently practiced (i.e., every day) until more recently. That, I believe, is how willpower is developed and sustained, step by consistent step.
My center is the essence of who I am, beyond all the stuff that covers up my truth, beauty, and brightness. When I am feeling centered, I notice that I am not as easily swayed or affected by other people's opinions and responses (whether positive or negative). I can carry on strongly and gracefully whether or not I feel “liked” or “accepted” by others because I have accepted myself.
When I am connected to my core, my center, I can risk being rejected and hurt (the elusive culprit of my fear) so that I can reveal and share my light.